Licensed massage therapist Magnus Eklund's professional and charity-based efforts show a penchant for easing tension. A native of Sweden, Eklund grew up an avid tennis player and skier. His initial foray into massage therapy came as a consequence of his hyperactive lifestyle.
"I started doing yoga when I was in my early 30s because I had so many early injuries," Eklund says.
After coming to the United States in 1983 to play tennis at the University of Southern Mississippi, Eklund came to Jackson in 1989. He started his work as a structural integrator, and now operates his own structural integration therapy studio, Mind & Body Inc. on Lakeland Drive in Jackson.
What differentiates structural integration therapy from regular massage therapy is the emphasis on movement.
"When a client comes in they're not just going to lay down, they're going to participate in the work," Eklund says.
Though clients often come to this therapy for treatment of various injuries, it also facilitates general well-being and, Eklund says, helps bring the body back into balance. "As we get older, our muscles get tighter. SI is a lot about opening up space in the body and (creating) more movement," he says.
Eklund is one of few active SI therapists in the state, and his studio sustains a large clientele. He stresses that his license number is LMT144 and that he's a U.S. citizen.
In spite of his commercial success, Eklund lists community involvement as a continued priority. He is planning the second annual Yoga for Non-Violence charity event to benefit the Center for Violence Prevention, a women's shelter and advocacy organization in Pearl. He came up with the idea last year and enlisted yoga studios to help. "I wanted to do something for the community. ... Yoga and non-violence are both things that I feel passionate about," he says.
The event is $25 and begins at 9 a.m. Aug. 6 at the Arts Center of Mississippi. Eklund invites attendees to participate in a 108 sun salutations: 108 repetitions of 12 basic yoga positions. "People can also train for this event at local yoga studios," he says. Local studios are offering the trainings for free to support the event.
Eklund attributes his affinity for peace and non-violence to his education. "Growing up in Sweden, I would read about Martin Luther King and Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, and I just felt like that was the way to go: peaceful solutions to conflict," Eklund says.
To allay conflict in his own life, Eklund enjoys reading, meditation and live music. "I especially like the blues down here," he says.
Courtesy Mississippi Association of Educators
Kevin Gilbert chuckled as he picked up a dropped blue pen. "I've got an 18-month-old baby and a 5 year old to deal with this morning," he says.
Gilbert arrived a few minutes past 8 a.m. at the Mississippi Association of Education, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the education quality for public school districts. At 39, Gilbert has been its president for four years.
He moved to Madison when he was 14, and attended Madison Central High School, then called Madison-Ridgeland High School. He went on to the University of Southern Mississippi, earning a bachelor's degree in 1994 and a master's in 1996 in political science.
After graduating, he began teaching at Sumner Hill Junior High in Clinton. He juggled teaching social studies with coaching basketball and track and field. Two years later, he accepted a job offer from Northwest Rankin High School where he taught economics and social studies and coached basketball until 2000 when he returned to Sumner Hill. He spent a year at Carver Middle School in the '04-'05 school year, then became assistant principal at Clinton High School where he served until 2007, when he was elected the president of MAE. He has volunteered with the organization since he first began teaching.
"And that's my education resume," he says.
He laughed as he leaned back in his office chair. A plaque that reads "Assistant Principal" gleamed in the light as well as a few other memorabilia from his teaching jobs across the three public school districts.
At MAE, Gilbert has worked to reduce dropout rates, raise educators' paychecks and spread awareness of the cultural competency of public school districts throughout Mississippi. He strives for the day that Mississippi students can compete equally against other students on a national or even a global scale.
"I want the schools to have all the resources necessary, highly effective educators, and the support from the community, Gilbert says.
"Those three are important to the success of the public schools."
Gilbert has spent most of his life in Mississippi and plans to raise his family in Madison. "What I like about Mississippi is the hospitality, the opportunities and the potential," he says.
"I've noticed that when I was graduating college, many people were leaving the state. But now, more educated people are choosing to stay in Mississippi. That is good thing."
Courtesy Chris Goodwin
As a transplant to Mississippi's capital, Chris Goodwin was initially reluctant to build a life here, but he soon found himself smoothly incorporated into the city, embracing all its diverse parts.
Originally from Water Valley, Miss., Goodwin married his wife, Elizabeth, in 2000. Goodwin tried to persuade his new bride that Oxford was the place for them. She was of a different mind, however, and eventually, convinced Goodwin that Jackson is where they were meant to be. After a few months as a Jacksonian, the history buff recognized the accuracy of his wife's intuition.
"It was one of many discussions where it turned out she was right, and I was wrong," Goodwin says, jokingly.
Now 11-year Belhaven residents, the Goodwins have two children, Charlie, 10, and Eleanor, 7. Though very much a family man, he merges his home life with the arts and Jackson culture on almost a daily basis.
"I grew up outside a small town in the county," Goodwin says. "Just having a choice of more than one restaurant, a great independent bookstore and some good live music to listen to is mighty fine."
A 1993 graduate of the University of Mississippi, the 42-year-old studied journalism, history and anthropology. He found his passion for history, culture and writing, and decided to further his career incorporating these interests. In 2001, he took a job with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, where he is director of public information and managing editor of the Journal of Mississippi History. His work includes planning for the future Mississippi Museum of History and the Civil Rights Museum.
Goodwin also became part of the Jackson music scene by pursuing "good live music," he says. A talented drummer, he was the driving beat in the former band The Moils for four years until the band called it quits in 2008. About nine months ago, Goodwin joined up with Matthew Magee, Austin Sorey, TB Ledford and Aven Whittington to form The Hustlers, a honky-tonk rock band. They play gigs at local venues, and draw a crowd that likes folk-based beats, what he calls "low-fire rock 'n' roll."
Goodwin also finds solace in jazz. "I enjoy the individual expression that each musician brings to the best jazz."
For information about The Hustlers, visit http://www.reverbnation.com/themississippihustlers.
Dr. Guangzhi Qu relishes the scientific challenge of treating cancer and the human side of healing patients. Qu, 43, an oncologist with Jackson Oncology Associates who practices at area hospitals, was weak as a child, suffering frequent colds. While still a young boy in China, he resolved to become a doctor to help people like his grandmother, whose chronic illnesses cast a shadow over his childhood.
After completing medical school at Peking University, Qu came to the United States in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at Tulane University, studying a process called DNA-methylation and its relationship with cancer. He moved on to a residency in internal medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, completing it in 2000. Qu fell in love with the good weather and good people in Jackson.
He had to part with the balmy clime of Mississippi for three years, though, to complete a fellowship from 2000 to 2003 at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. There, Qu felt a strong affinity for the clinic's collaborative, patient-centered approach to medicine.
"The patient's interest is the only interest we should consider," he says.
The eminently qualified doctor came to St. Dominic, where he practices with Jackson Oncology Associates, in January 2004. Though he often works 11-hour days, Qu never gets tired of his job.
"I love what I'm doing," Qu says. "I tap-dance into work."
Qu lives in Ridgeland with his wife, Xinhong, a neurologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and their four children. On weekends, he travels to tennis tournaments to support his children, all of whom play competitively.
Oncology is a comparatively young field in medicine, Qu notes, making it an exciting arena, full of breakthroughs. Scientists only discovered the genetic roots of cancer 40 years ago, and researchers are only now harvesting some of the fruits of earlier discoveries,
Still, Qu says that the thing that sustains him is medicine's age-old mandate to help people. "A thousand years ago, they used crazy ways to treat a patient," he says. "But the attitude, the compassion—that's (still) the keystone to what we're doing."
Mark Jones could have taken his humanitarian efforts anywhere, but he chose to do good in his home state. Jones is a former youth minister, Sunday-school teacher and a public-relations director for the Salvation Army.
When we met, a guy in shorts and a T-shirt with the most inviting, infectious smile I've ever seen approached me. Once we began to talk, Jones, 39, sent all my preconceived notions out the window. He is passionate about his job at the Salvation Army.
"This job gets to blend my two loves: communication and the church," Jones said.
He graduated from Mississippi College in 1995 with a degree in communication and got a master's degree from Southwestern Baptist Seminary in 2000.
Jones is also involved with a Salvation Army non-profit fundraiser called the Empty Bowl Program that feeds homeless and hungry people in the area. "The great thing is not only raising the funds, but actually getting to see the stomachs filled. It's hands-on work as a P.R. director for the Salvation Army," Jones said.
Jones' coworker Kim Jones (no relation) said he is an asset to the Salvation Army. "Although his assigned territory is the Southern region, he has trail-blazed many fundraising efforts for devastations across the world. Programs for the tsunami (relief) in Japan, the 'killer tornadoes' in the South, and the Empty Bowl Program all have been great accolades (for) Mark."
He isn't doing all these things to prove anything; he does them because that's how he was raised. Jones' father is a minister and his mother a nurse. His father instilled in his four children the need to find and help the broken and hungry.
Jones is married to a teacher, Kelly Jones. The couple has four children, a son, Andrew, 13, and three daughters: Ashley, 9; Megan, 7; and Meredith, 5. When he mentions his kids, Jones' face lights up.
"They're my pride; they're my joy," he says.
"Each one of them has a unique personality unto themselves. They all have a softness to their heart, but they also have a strongness to their character. I work every day to make them proud, to train them to be Godly children, to be good citizens, to be good students, but also to grow up to eventually be my partners in service, and hopefully, one day a really good friend."
He says Mississippi is a very special place.
"We have so much to offer, and if I can make the Jackson area just a little bit better and see lives change, then it's well worth living here."
City of Jackson
Sean Perkins always thinks about the city of Jackson. As the chief of staff for Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., Perkins is responsible for overseeing the city's nine departments and assisting the mayor.
"We are always working," he says about the mayor's office. "It's not just a job where you say, 'OK, I'm not going to think about the city right now.'"
The 36-year-old Jackson native has deep roots in the city he calls home. A graduate of St. Andrews High School, he left Jackson to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta for a few years, but came back to Jackson in 1992 to be closer to family. Perkins received a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in public policy from Jackson State University in 1997 and 1999, respectively.
After graduating from JSU, Perkins worked as director of constituent services during Johnson's second term in 2001. When Mayor Frank Melton was in office, Perkins worked as the executive director of 100 Black Men in 2005 and as a branch manager for Regions Bank in 2008. He returned to work for the city when Johnson was re-elected in 2009.
Perkins wants to re-create the support he received from the community growing up for his family and others in Jackson. The father of three is a fierce supporter of Jackson Public Schools, and his oldest son, Joseph, attends Casey Elementary School.
"It feels good to be around people who have known me as a child," he says.
"These are the people who have kept me on the right track and helped me do things I am supposed to do. I think that coming back home and being around that nurturing environment is what helped me get to where I am today. ... The one thing that hasn't changed is that Jackson has always had a strong sense of community."
As Johnson's go-to man, Perkins is accustomed to working on tight deadlines and dealing with unexpected issues such as the city's water crisis in 2010. He always makes time, however, to have fun with his colleagues and spend time with his family.
"Local government is where the rubber meets the road," he says.
"So there are times when things are very serious, but we have fun and are focused on getting the job done because our mayor is always focused on getting the job done," he says.
"At the end of the day, the citizens are at the heart of everything we do."
Family history intrigued Ed Payne so much that his part-time genealogy hobby turned him into a published historian.
As he researched his family's Piney Woods past, he discovered connections to ancestors who lived in the Free State of Jones during the Civil War. It's a complicated story. Jones County in southeast Mississippi, with an economy based on cattle and fierce individualism, supposedly seceded from the Confederacy in 1863.
"People don't follow a script," Payne says.
The Jones County folk weren't necessarily abolitionists. They had a history of declaring themselves free from whatever government was over them. Most of them, though, didn't own slaves and disliked plantation owners who were often officers in the Confederate Army.
"The first real impact these people (in the Piney Woods) experienced of government coercion—you join the army, we take 10 percent of your cattle—was the Confederate government," he says.
Payne spoke at a genealogy society two years ago in Hattiesburg about some of the white men in Jones County who enlisted in the Union Army in New Orleans. La. After he spoke, three older white ladies approached him. He took a deep breath, expecting them to be upset, but what they said surprised him.
"Why do you only talk about Jones County?" one of them asked.
They all had stories of Civil War family members from all over South Mississippi who fought for the Union.
Since he started his research, Payne has uncovered hundreds of Union enlistees from the Piney Woods. "The majority of my history work is this episode of South Mississippi history that is contrary to 'Gone with the Wind,'" he says.
Payne, 61, began his research seven years ago. About the same time, he started thinking about retiring from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. He lived in Jackson but wondered if retirement meant he needed to move away. He set out to discover Jackson as he had never seen it before, and realized he could retire here and be happy.
He went to venues where local bands played, going out three times a week. Payne hung around and met musicians of all genres. Now, he's friends with many of them. He still goes out several times a week to hear live music in Jackson.
Payne recalls hearing Cary Hudson sing "The Free State of Jones." It turns out Hudson, like Payne, has deep Piney Woods roots.
Byron D'Andra Orey
Jackson Statue University
Byron D'Andra Orey's inquiring mind has taken him as far as Oxford, England, and Ghana, Africa. But the Jackson State University political science professor calls Jackson home and researches African American attitudes in Mississippi.
The Jackson native has devoted his career to understanding statistics about African Americans and politics. He graduated from Callaway High School and earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from Mississippi Valley State University in 1988. He received a master's degree in public administration from Ole Miss in 1990, a second master's in political science from the State University of New York in 1993 and doctorate in political science from the University of New Orleans in 1999.
Orey's father, a lobbyist, introduced his son to politics at an early age. "I didn't realize I was being socialized to become a political scientist," he says about his father, who exposed him to politicians, political advocacy and literature.
Orey is researching African American racial identity and is taking surveys of JSU students about their attitudes to resolve inequalities along race, gender and age lines. He finds his work rewarding because there isn't a lot of data available specifically relating to African Americans.
"Given the fact that we have a historically black university and we have access to all these African American students, we have a unique population," he says
"We offer a unique population that many universities can't get access to in large numbers. I saw coming back to Jackson as a huge opportunity."
Orey, 45, often travels to schools like Vanderbilt and Harvard University to discuss his findings. So far, he has found a correlation between racial identity and grade point average.
"If we are able to teach young Africans more about who they are and where they come from, this tells me that will lead to higher self esteem and higher achievements," he says.
The father of one son, Kalen, 17, laughs when asked what he does in his spare time. He is often so fascinated in research that it is hard to break away, but he finds time to be active in the community, eat crawfish and attend college SWAC football games, especially Mississippi Valley State University.
"A lot of the research that I do has simply been neglected," he says. "It's so easy to capitalize on research that people haven't done or hasn't been done well."
Family was always important to Stuart Rockoff. In fact, curiosity about his Jewish heritage led to his position as director of the history department at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
After spending his youth in Houston, Texas, Rockoff studied history at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, graduating in 1991. Doing graduate work at the University of Texas, he studied race and ethnicity and grew fascinated with his background, conducting research on how the Southern Jewish experience differed from that in the North. After completing his doctorate in 2000, he came to the institute to preserve that history.
The institute's mission is to preserve the history of Jewish life in the South, especially in communities with shrinking Jewish populations. In addition to its history focus, the institute fosters Jewish culture throughout the region with a circuit-riding rabbi, educators who work with approximately 70 congregations and cultural programming.
Rockoff's work allows him to mentor future generations of historians, too. Each summer his department has four interns, mostly from the East Coast and northern United States. These interns research and visit small Jewish communities throughout the South. Rockoff likes that many of them have never visited Mississippi before and "all of them end up loving it," he says. Like his colleagues, he sees the students grow a passion for the work as they learn about and preserve history that might otherwise be lost.
After gathering a community's history, Rockhoff compiles it in an online encyclopedia he created (available at http://www.isjl.org) that now contains histories of 188 Jewish communities from nine states. Complementing this is an oral-history project with video interviews.
Preserving history with an eye toward the future is important to Rockoff in his personal life, as well. He and his wife, Susan, have two daughters: Bella, 9, and Zoey, 7. He serves on the board of Parents for Public Schools. He also serves on the board of the Mississippi Heritage Trust and is involved in the planning of Temple Beth Israel's 150th anniversary gala in September.
The importance of having a sense of place makes Rockoff, a Fondren resident since 2003, love Jackson.
"I never want to leave," he says.
Antonio Wright became paralyzed from the waist down Feb. 2, 1997, when he was just 22. A tire blew out in the car Wright was riding in on Interstate 55, causing the car to flip over eight times. The driver walked away without a scratch, but Wright suffered severe spinal injuries.
Because he understands the emotional trauma of losing mobility, he founded a non-profit organization, the Metro Area Community Empowerment Foundation. It is an outreach to heal emotional wounds of disabled people, and help them regain strength and confidence through recreation.
"It gave me a mission, and God's mercy gave me the opportunity to really push through," he says. "I feel like I've been blessed to see today, and if I have today then I'm going to try my best to bless someone else."
Before his accident, Wright was an aspiring football player. He played football when he attended Provine High School and Hinds Community College. At the time of the accident, he was about to start playing for Jackson State University.
After recovering from his accident, Wright earned his physical-education degree from JSU in 2004 and helped coach the university's football team. After graduation, he was a football coach and defense coordinator at Murrah, Provine and McComb high schools. In June 2010, he retired from football and now works with MACE full time.
Wright believes community service is his calling and feels led to cater to the wheelchair community.
"It's surreal to think I was a football coach my entire life of being paralyzed and didn't feel as at home as I do now working through my non-profit in the community," he says.
Through the foundation, Wright developed various physical-activity programs specifically catering to people with disabilities. One of these programs is the Jackson Rollin Tigers basketball team. The players on this team are all in wheelchairs and typically compete in out-of-town tournaments in places such as New Orleans, La., Mobile and Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis and Nashville, Tenn. When he isn't traveling, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Mahalia.
"I enjoy seeing athletes become their best and seeing them develop," he says. "This is so much like that, but so much better, because I get to see this person who has no idea of what they can do, and give them the tools and watch them blossom into these powerful people in society."